Empowering Africa’s Farmers and Agrodealers Through Capacity Building
Training agrochemical users and suppliers in Africa on proper use of farm inputs is critical to ensuring increased production of high-quality crops and safeguarding the health and safety of consumers and the environment.
A group of international organizations working in Africa has deployed different strategies to reach out to farmers and agrochemical suppliers in an effort to educate them on the application of available products in the market.
This has not only enhanced efforts to increase quality crop volumes but has also turned out to be a major boost for agrochemical manufacturers and suppliers currently struggling to ward off competition from counterfeit and substandard farm inputs in the market.
Geneva-based Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), one of the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification companies, and the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) are two of the leading organizations in training of agrodealers on best crop production practices, farm inputs and soil fertility management across Africa.
For example, SGS, which has operations in 45 African countries, has embraced the philosophy of agro-dealers as the main point of contact for smallholder farmers seeking advice on how to increase production.
“Well-trained agrodealers pass on their knowledge to farmers, helping them select the best inputs for each condition. Some trained agrodealers establish their own demonstration plots to not only increase business but also to train farmers,” said Gouvernayre Dominique, SGS Africa Regional Agri Manager during an interview with Farm Chemicals International.
“The use of agrochemicals can have adverse impacts on the health of operators, bystanders, workers and residents. A thorough understanding of the health risks and legal implications associated with the use of plant protection products will reduce the prospect of serious consequences.”
Dominique said access to quality information, especially for small-scale farmers in food insecure Africa, could translate into quality production systems such as use of quality farm inputs, which results in quality crop output and higher earnings for both the farmer and farm input dealer.
He said SGS, in addition to its qualified experts working with agrodealers in delivery of various solutions such as sampling, testing, inspection, control and certification of farm inputs, works with small-scale farmers to ensure they have the right information before they buy farm inputs, which helps them avert cases of use of wrong products or wrong quantities.
Farmer Capacity Building
Farmer capacity building in Africa, as a strategy to effective use of farm inputs for increased production and securing the region’s food security, is also top on the agenda of IFDC, which is engaged in several agricultural projects across the continent.
Porfirio Fuentes, IFDC senior scientist for economics and trade, says the organization has been involved in farmer capacity building through direct technical assistance and training to farmers and also through agrodealer training.
“Farmers’ technical assistance and training, although done on an individual basis, is often through field days to promote the use of enhanced production technologies such as best crop production practices, including the use of inputs like fertilizers,” said Fuentes.
He said training at every link in the fertilizer value chain is invaluable because “a weak link is a weak chain” and without a strong fertilizer value chain, improving crop production in Africa might not be feasible.
“Trained and knowledgeable agrodealers carry certified seeds, fertilizers and other crop inputs and teach farmers to use them. Farmers, in turn, reap the benefits from quality inputs and training and share their experiences with other farmers, who, seeing the benefits with their own eyes, begin using and demanding better inputs.”
IFDC takes the training of farmers seriously and uses field days for farmers and agrodealers to demonstrate the proper use of inputs first-hand, he said. The organization works across the agriculture value chain to improve timely availability, access to inputs and market access to farmers’ output.
He explained that on the farm input supply side, IFDC is involved in creating a conducive environment for the private sector to develop and ensure a timely supply of high-quality inputs, and also expand the inputs market through technical assistance and training in business management.
IFDC has previously led successful initiatives in bringing on board the private sector in expanding the farm input market in Nigeria and Rwanda.
For example, to improve fertilizer availability in Nigeria, IFDC has previously facilitated the privatization of a government-owned urea production plant that was idle for several years. IFDC assessed the market value of the plant for the government to auction it, according to Fuentes.
The plant is now privatized and rehabilitated, producing urea and multi-nutrient fertilizers including urea “super-granules” for use in urea deep placement (UDP). In Rwanda, IFDC is working directly with the Ministry of Agriculture and the private sector to fully privatize the supply of fertilizer and improve access to finance by supply chain private actors.
IFDC is also helping build networks of trained agrodealers across Africa especially in inputs and crop production technical training, stressing effective management of their businesses and
the importance of participating in trade associations.
“Trained and certified agrodealers with access to finance are able to provide their farmer customers with more information, as well as training and improved follow-up services. The expansion of agrodealer networks has reduced the distance farmers travel in rural areas to purchase inputs,” Fuentes said.
With the involvement of international organizations with a focus on farmers, particularly the smallholder group in Africa, farm inputs will no longer be a cause for worry for international market players such as the European Union but a solution to the region’s perennial foods shortage and low farm earnings.